You always see those few angelic, silent, perfectly behaved kids in the grocery line and think, "What's that mom's secret?" Meanwhile your kid is begging for the candy bar near the checkout line, then bursts into inconsolable tears when you don't oblige. You may get a few eye rolls or head shakes from other customers, but handling toddler tantrums is simply a part of motherhood. When a meltdown occurs in any public space, there are a variety of approaches for settling your child down and avoiding or calming a scene. You know your child best, so try using a combination of these techniques to fix the situation, then pat yourself on the back for a mommy job well done.
1. Plan ahead. Before leaving the house, consider the situations that may cause your child to become upset as a result of overstimulation, nervousness or anxiety. Also think of the settings that may have your child craving attention due to boredom or jealousy. Create a plan of attack depending on where you’re headed; at the grocery, if he or she begins to throw a tantrum, will you immediately leave the store or will you take a "cry it out" approach? Either is fine, but knowing your plan before leaving will make you seem more confident and send a strong message to your child. If you’re frazzled, your child will likely continue to act poorly, as the behavior is gaining your attention.
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2. Have a conversation. If you’ve experienced a spur-of-the-moment meltdown in the past and weren’t sure how to handle it, that’s okay. But talking to your child about good and poor behavior in every unique situation is important to allow them to understand your expectations. Kids don’t know unless you tell them, so make it clear what you’d like to see and what is unacceptable so they know the ground rules up front. Also, make consequences clear so your child knows what will happen if he or she can't behave.
3. Create an activity. If your child’s having fun, you can say bye-bye to Breakdown Town. Make every trip exciting by creating a small activity or game at each stop you make. For example:
- At the grocery: Give your child his or her own grocery list with three to five items scattered throughout your aisle route. Many stores have baskets or small carts, so you can give your child some responsibility and keep him entertained.
- At the library: This is known for being a quiet place, so practice tip toeing and whispering while you choose the perfect books. The first one to use their normal voice loses! Also, try to time your library trips around kid-centered activities happening there. It may be less frustrating to other patrons if they are prepared for children to be there.
- At church: Purchase an activity/coloring book that is religious-based. Your child will be occupied while learning about your religion. If your child can’t read, take time after the service to talk about the pictures they completed, telling them the stories of what they colored.
- At a restaurant: If you’re out as a family, place I Spy together to take note of the unique things you all see at the restaurant. You'll be helping your child learn and develop while giving them attention and avoiding a meltdown. If you’re afraid of a hunger-induced tantrum, bring a snack!
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4. Embrace your child's curiosity. Sometimes your child isn’t throwing a tantrum. Maybe you’re at the movies and he or she just has a million and one questions about the characters on screen or about the guy in front of you inhaling his popcorn. Rather than ignoring your child’s questions for fear of being "that family" who talks through the movie, answer them if they don’t require a lengthy explanation. You may also plan to write a list of their questions throughout the movie, then discuss them on the way home. Either way, your child doesn’t feel ignored, which is usually the cause of loud, attention-grabbing outbursts.
5. Offer rewards for good behavior. Offering incentives for exceptional behavior doesn’t make you a weak mom; it means you care about keeping order! And you don’t have to visit the toy aisle every time you go somewhere. You can have a set reward for each place you visit and use small, inexpensive incentives to promote good behavior. When you’re at the grocery, let your child hold a snack or drink you don’t usually keep at home and treat them to it if you get through your list without any issues. Or if you’re running errands, treat your kiddo to an hour at the park to run off his or her built up energy. It’ll do you some good, too!
6. Stick to your word. If you threaten to leave the public space if your child can't calm down, do just that if the behavior isn’t corrected. If you’d rather let your child cry it out in the middle of the aisle, don’t say a word until they’ve calmed down or step a few feet away to distance yourself. In either case, make it clear to your child what is happening and pay no attention to those around you. Others may look at you funny, but chances are they don’t have kids of their own and simply don’t understand. Tantrums happen; decide how you’ll handle it and stick to that plan. And if you promised a reward for excellent behavior, make sure you keep your word!
What are your go-to tricks for stopping toddler tantrums? Share in the comments below!